The owners and operators of two senior living communities accused of abandoning residents during a 2017 wildfire have agreed to pay $500,000 to settle an unlawful business practices lawsuit filed by state and local prosecutors.

Windsor, CA-based Oakmont Senior Living LLC, Oakmont Management Group LLC and Varenna LLC, the owners and operators of the Varenna and Villa Capri senior living communities, agreed to a five-year judgment that includes payments of $205,000 each in settlement fees to the Sonoma County and the state of California, as well as $45,000 to both the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office and the California Attorney General’s Office for their investigation costs.

The complaint filed in Sonoma County Superior Court by the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office and the California Attorney General’s Office in the wake of the October 2017 Tubbs Fire alleged unlawful business practices for not adequately planning for and training staff members on emergency evacuation and preparedness, failing to timely and adequately notify residents of the need to evacuate, and abandoning residents who had “no means to evacuate themselves.”

Oakmont Management Group said the settlement resolves any potential claims with the state or county without admitting fault or liability. In a statement, the company said it agreed to hire an outside expert in fire safety and evacuation protocols to implement a supplemental monitoring system. That expert will help the company “better plan and prepare for those instances, as in the Tubbs Fire, where the city and county Offices of Emergency Services fail to adequately plan or implement public safety evacuation warnings or procedures sufficient to allow for an orderly evacuation of our communities and when the assistance of local fire or law enforcement personnel is not available,” Oakmont said.

The judgment also includes the appointment of an independent monitor to ensure adherence.

Nathan Ballard, an adviser to Oakmont Management Group, said it was “fiscally prudent” to resolve the issues instead of pursuing lengthy litigation over “this long-past dispute.” 

“This settlement will also protect our team members from the threat of unwarranted criminal prosecution arising from any conduct occurring before or during the fire,” Ballard said in a statement. “We are confident that we would have prevailed should this matter have proceeded further, but for the sake of our team members, residents and stakeholders in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are pleased to lay this matter to rest.”

The Tubbs Fire required the evacuation of residents at Varenna at Fountaingrove and Villa Capri on Oct. 8, 2017, when the wildfire swept into Santa Rosa, CA. Valla Capri, an assisted living and memory care community, was destroyed, and the adjacent Varenna, an independent living and assisted living community, suffered damage. 

“Residents of senior facilities are particularly vulnerable during disasters like we experienced during the 2017 wildfires and unfortunately continue to experience. Fortunately, no residents died or were seriously injured as a result of what occurred,” Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch said in a news release. “This judgment will help ensure the safety of seniors and send a message to all facilities that undertake the care of vulnerable members of our community that they must be prepared to protect their residents during a disaster.”

The agreement comes two years after a 2018 settlement with the California Department of Social Services and the settlement of another lawsuit representing 17 residents, the terms of which were confidential. Oakmont also has faced additional lawsuits related to the fire from a resident and employees.

A bill motivated by the handling of the evacuations was signed into law last summer by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The law adds “abandonment” to the list of offenses warranting enhanced civil remedies under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act.